THE FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP WILL RESUME WITHOUT THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED NISSAN LMP1, WRITES COLIN SMITH
I have nothing approaching the engineering knowledge to say whether the ambitious Nissan LMP1 programme is destined to fail or just needs time to resolve teething problems.
What I do know is that from the moment I heard stories of the radical GT-R LM Nismo and saw the launch pictures I wanted the car to be competitive against its Audi, Toyota and Porsche LMP1 rivals.
As with the pioneering Chaparral sports cars, the six-wheel Tyrrell P34 F1 car, the Le Mans-winning Mazda 787B rotary and Audi’s game-changing Quattro rally car and R10 TDI diesel prototype, it’s fantastic to see a racing car that challenges convention.
Nissan’s original concept of a front-engine LMP1 racer with a V6 engine driving the front wheels and four-wheel-drive provided by the hybrid energy recovery system was very exciting. But you might say Nissan talked fast before it could walk with a high-profile launch for the GT-R LM Nismo in a Super Bowl TV commercial.
And early talk of a energy recovery system in the highest 8-megajoule category allowed in LMP1 racing and 1500hp proved wildly optimistic.
There were major reliability problems with the energy recovery system and Nissan opted to simplify the GT-R LM Nismo to race as a front-wheel-drive car.
Development issues saw the team withdraw from the first two rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship before making a troubled debut at Le Mans in June, where it lacked pace and reliability.
So there was no surprise in last week’s announcement that any further participation in the FIA World Endurance Championship is on hold.
The LMP1 challenger won’t return for at least the next two races on the WEC calendar — if at all.
Continuing problems with the energy recovery system (ERS) meant that Nissan ran at Le Mans with the hybrid system disabled.
The strongest aspect of its Le Mans performance was that its 3-litre twin turbo petrol engine and low drag aerodynamics produced impressive straight-line speed. But it lacked corner speed and had brake problems.
“When you innovate you don’t give up at the first hurdle,’’ said Nismo president Shoichi Miyatani. ‘‘We are committed to overcoming this challenge.”
The decision does not affect any of the Nissan’s other major motorsport programmes in the FIA GT3 and Japanese Super GT categories.
“We’ve said it before but innovation hurts,” said Darren Cox, Nismo global head of marketing.
“The beauty of this programme is that people have got behind us and they are willing us to succeed,” Cox said.
“This has shown us once again that people want something different in motorsport and that gives us increased motivation to make our LMP1 car competitive.’’ “We have many areas to work on, not least ensuring that we have the best ERS option available to us,” said technical director Ben Bowlby.
“The team is pushing hard on track, in the wind tunnel and at Nismo’s facilities around the world to deliver the long list of improvements we know that we need.”
It will be interesting to see if that work results in a car that continues the pioneering concept of the GT-R LM Nismo or if Nissan reverts to a more conventional approach.